Novartis agrees to USD642M settlement over kickbacks

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis agreed to pay more than USD642 million to settle a lawsuit that accused it of paying kickbacks to doctors, among other allegations, the United States (US)Department of Justice said.

Part of the settlement was related to the company’s use of three foundations to funnel payments to cover costs for patients taking its multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya and kidney cancer drug Afinitor.

Another part centred on alleged bribing of doctors to prescribe the company’s medication. “Through this settlement and others, the government demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that drug companies do not use kickbacks to influence the drugs prescribed by doctors or purchased by patients,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said.

Novartis is accused of having hosted tens of thousands of speaker programmes and events which the Department of Justice said were used to bribe physicians.

In one example, the company chose doctors who already prescribed high volumes of Novartis drugs to serve as paid speakers, as a means of inducing them to continue writing or write more prescriptions.

Representatives often dropped doctors from the speaker programme if they failed to increase prescriptions, the Department of Justice said.

“For over a decade, Novartis spent hundreds of millions of dollars on so-called speaker programmes, including speaking fees and exorbitant meals that were nothing more than bribes,” said acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss.